Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Seriously--'Nuff Said!

No doubt each of these two powerhouses had their own idea about who would come out on top in this match-up--but they probably never dreamed they'd each be crushed by the virtual billboard that's become their magazine masthead!

In this comparison between the classic cover of Fantastic Four #112 and that of its duplicate in the FF reprint mag, Marvel's Greatest Comics, it's clear our beleaguered behemoths are in danger of having to trade blows within the confines of a sardine can, with Ant-Man as their referee. In this case, even the MGC banner and FF logo are being forced further down by the $2500 teaser that advertises the hastily-named "Win-Yourself-Some-Big-Bucks" contest from 1980.

Perhaps the one good thing about the overcrowding is that it forces the "Hulk vs. Thing" lettering to be redesigned and placed in more of a "title bout" format. Nor do the figures of the Hulk and the Thing suffer overmuch from being reduced in size, since they were given a generous amount of cover space on the original. Even the stance of the Hulk conveniently accommodates the dreaded UPC barcode symbol that appears on the MGC cover.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Godhood's End!

Issue by issue, we've been building toward the resolution of the cosmic epic plotted by writer/artist Jim Starlin, where the evil Thanos seizes the power of the Cosmic Cube and uses it to transform himself into no less than a god--while Captain Marvel, himself changed from staunch warrior of the Kree to cosmically-aware protector of the universe, has joined with the survivors of Titan as well as the Avengers in the hopes of somehow defeating this mad worshipper of Death. A goal shared by the crazed Destroyer, who pursues Thanos even though his enemy has ascended to the heavens.

With his transformation to godhood, the threat potential of Thanos is obvious--but Mar-vell and his allies know only part of the story. They know, for instance, that Thanos has decimated Titan and its population in a fit of vengeance, and repopulated the moon with his own army of alien outcasts; they also know that Thanos intends to use that army to conquer the planet Earth, those plans set in motion even as he sought the Cosmic Cube. What they don't know is that Thanos has formed a perverse love for Death, which has taken physical form and joined him at his side--and that he intends the conquered Earth as a token of his affection for his dark, deadly companion. And now, having achieved unlimited power, and with the universe his for the taking (a moot point, since, after all, he now is the universe), there is conceivably no end to the number of lives he can offer to Death.

And yet, interestingly, still this book behaves as if Thanos has antagonists, in the form of Mar-vell and the others--making for a fine story, yes, but not realistically taking into account a foe who has no real need to engage his enemies and can erase his opposition at a stroke. Alert PPC reader david_b observed that Thanos treated his foes as adversaries in order to satisfy his ego, which is a perfectly acceptable explanation for the sake of the story; after all, this issue begins by Thanos insisting on facing Mar-vell fist-to-fist in physical form, and what god would bother with that?

Writer Steve Englehart, who would go on to helm a second arc with Mar-vell after Starlin's imminent departure, takes the scripting reins of this story with this final installment, as Starlin (this time with inker Klaus Janson) brings this story to its conclusion. And once more, Starlin provides a panel-by-panel recap of the events which brought us to this point--a task which, at first glance, seems a huge undertaking in itself:

As we can see, Starlin for the first time provides us with Thanos' background while he was still thriving on Titan with his family (his father, Mentor, and brother, Eros), while Titan was still in its prime. That Thanos was able to keep his growing obsession with weaponry under wraps until adulthood--as well as from Mentor, who's nothing if not a sharp observer--is a slight glitch in Thanos' partial origin here, particularly if he's amassed enough of an arsenal behind the scenes to rain destruction on Titan immediately following his exile. Perhaps it just goes to show that, like Odin with Loki, even a Titan can have a "problem child" for whom nothing can be done.

Finally, to segue us to Mar-vell's impending confrontation with Thanos, Starlin provides this gorgeous abstract panel that brings us to where we are now:

Rick Jones vs. Thanos? Well, Thanos has no interest in beating Rick to a pulp--and we can assume that Rick, though a former partner to Captain America, has no interest in playing hero today. Instead, he knows that responsibility must fall to another.

Shall we?

Friday, June 26, 2015

An Enclave Among Us!

Whenever the Illuminati meet, it's interesting how you often come away with the impression that they're not likely to meet again, given that their activities raise doubts among them about their decisions and methods, and their cooperation with each other is at times reluctant. It's these very aspects that make you perk up at subsequent meetings, because you know the issues raised and the level of intrigue are going to make for a page-turner. There's also the fact that, until now, the Illuminati have been left to police themselves; even after the events of Secret Invasion and World War Hulk, their activities and meetings remained under the radar. And since they're the only ones holding each other accountable, let's just say their judgment calls could have used an ombudsman.

Thanks to the legislation which led to the "Civil War," the group has ceased meeting regularly in an administrative capacity where they would compare notes and subtly manipulate events behind the scenes; currently, they only meet on rare occasion, and only when the need requires it. But however infrequent their conferences, the Illuminati's comfortable cloak of secrecy is about to be yanked away--in a story that introduces Medusa to the group, attending in place of the deceased Black Bolt, and under circumstances that require their immediate attention.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When Strikes The Scientific Adventurer!

When Henry Pym was expelled from the Avengers after facing charges of misconduct and subsequently attempting to deceive his accusers, he had admitted his wrongs and faced the music, becoming a better man in the process. As he put it: "I left my life as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket in the rubble of my past--but I left with my debts paid, and my head held high!" And when he departed from Avengers Mansion, we had every reason to believe that his future held promise.

But then he hooked up with the West Coast Avengers group. And, well...

Hank initially took residence with the team to manage the compound and handle security of the grounds; but after being dumped by Tigra, and having a humiliating encounter with the villain Whirlwind which essentially dug up his old failures and shortcomings, Hank hit rock bottom again.

Fortunately, Hank had a guardian angel, in the form of Bonita Juarez, a/k/a the former Firebird but now calling herself La Espirita. And I know what you're thinking: Anyone who's already in the habit of changing from one identity to another is bound to have a rapport with Henry Pym.

It's a different approach for Pym--an almost therapeutic one, using his talents in invention and biology to "find his calling," as it were, a role for himself other than as a man with some sort of super-power. And so he takes to his lab to see where his strengths lie. There are a few issues of buildup, where we check in on Hank busily working on a project; but when he presents the fruits of his labors, it's safe to say that he hasn't left his insect motif behind.

"Rover" may not be the two-seater that Tigra would have in mind, but then again Hank hasn't built this all-purpose go-buggy for her--and that's the point. What Espirita is gratified to see is Hank striking out on his own, becoming the kind of person who isn't dependent on the Avengers for his self-worth.

After the Ultron debacle, you have to wonder at Hank's reasons for giving the power of speech to yet another machine. But, wince though we will, we have to give at least a chuckle at the simple nature of Rover's syntax:

Oh, Hank--it's "Kid Ultron" by any other name, buddy.

In addition, though, Hank harnesses his power to shrink and adapts it this time to objects, rather than himself. And, whether formally spoken or not, he settles for his own name for himself, no more, no less.

Though, whether he wants one or not, he gets a logo:

He also gets a costume... er, an outfit, as well as a descriptive handle to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers:

Chances are that Whirlwind is still going to exclaim "PYM!" rather than "...the Scientific Adventurer!" at seeing Hank, but you can't win them all. And since Hank didn't take a leaf from Hawkeye and Mockingbird's book and dress down for California, he'll likely be called "the Sweltering Adventurer" before long.

Anyway, we were given a few more issues of Rover's A.I., puppy-dog antennae, and windshield-glare eyes before we got really, really tired of it.

I think the last instance we were exposed to Rover's A.I. was an issue of Solo Avengers, before it quickly tapered off and eventually disappeared altogether. And after the events of Onslaught, we could say the same for
The Scientific Adventurer.

Whatever happened to the West Coast Avengers, anyway?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Soap Among The Stars!

With things heating up in the power play made by Thanos of Titan to not only conquer Earth but also make use of the Cosmic Cube to further his ambitions, you wouldn't expect the Avengers to be sitting on the sidelines. But when all is said and done, they would not be facing Thanos directly (with the exception of Iron Man), as Thanos would take steps to remove them from the playing field altogether. Part of that plan involves a massive invasion fleet Thanos has assembled to attack Earth at the proper moment.

But before that moment arrives, the Avengers have a few items to clear off their plate after their return from Vietnam to investigate the origin of Mantis. One pleasant task involves the return of Captain America, after he'd dealt with a discrediting ad campaign that finally led to foiling a plan by the Secret Empire to take over the U.S. Unfortunately, his reunion with the Avengers would be a brief one, since the resolution of that case would leave him on the verge of abandoning his career as the symbol of his country.

To take Cap's mind off his troubles, Iron Man also gives Cap a recap (get it? "re-Cap," heh heh) of their battle with the Star-Stalker, where Mantis saved the day by deducing the creature's weakness:

In fairness to Cap, he never really had a problem with Mantis, despite Iron Man's recollection; it was only the Swordsman he still suspected of being on the wrong side of the law. (Though Cap probably kept an eye on Mantis out of her association with him.)

It's at that point that Lou-Ann, Rick Jones' girlfriend, arrives at the mansion on the verge of collapse, having escaped from the Controller and warning of Thanos--and the Avengers become swept up in the growing conflict between Thanos and Captain Marvel. Soon enough, Mar-vell, Moondragon, and Iron Man are kidnapped to face Thanos on Titan; but when Thanos uses the Cube to ascend to godhood, the Earth invasion fleet makes its move, and the Avengers must act.

And so the Avengers launch into space as the planet's only line of defense, against incredible odds that must be defeated if Earth is to survive.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Will Of The People

For an issue of Fantastic Four, this one doesn't make for a bad Sub-Mariner story:

"Beware The Ravaging Retrievers!" comes at a time when the team has disbanded due to Reed's loss of his stretching powers, and its members have gone their separate ways in finding different occupations for themselves--which leaves a few issues to explore each of the FF members on their own. Johnny indulges in professional car racing; Ben does some test piloting for NASA; Sue is off to Hollywood to be featured in a film project; and Reed takes a position with a group of scientists working on a classified project, supposedly involving national security. We learn later that it turns out to be a ruse involving Dr. Doom--but even in these early stages, Reed is becoming suspicious of the work being done:

While Johnny and Ben have had their own brushes with trouble. Once their respective affairs are settled, Johnny joins Ben in a welcome chance to reconnect with his friend:

But the focus of this issue is Sue, who is brought in to meet the head of the movie studio and discovers that it turns out to be not only an old friend, but someone who at one time meant a good deal more to her.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Our Enemy: The Universe!

If you missed the last few PPC reviews of Captain Marvel--wow, have you missed a lot! Because not only have we seen the good Captain become involved with the first grab for power by none other than Thanos--not only has Mar-vell cast off his life as a warrior and chosen a new role as a cosmically-aware protector of the universe--but we've also seen the devilish plans of Thanos come to a head, as the mad Titan has used the Cosmic Cube to transform himself into an all-powerful threat to life!

And as if to underscore things "coming to a head"...

We've arrived at the penultimate issue in this Captain Marvel story that's been developing through the efforts of writer/artist Jim Starlin, as Thanos at last gains ultimate power while those who oppose him fight an uphill struggle for their lives. Mar-vell looks ready for action on the issue's cover--but with his foe having achieved what he schemed for, can he hope to turn things around at this point, much less prevail?

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Gathering Of Heroes!

OR: "Titan: 1999"

A few things have happened since Captain Marvel was whisked away to a far-off location by the entity known as Eon and transformed into a cosmically-aware protector better able to challenge the mad Titan, Thanos. First on his list of things to do after being returned to Earth was to rescue Rick Jones' girlfriend, Lou-Ann, from the clutches of the Controller; he then crossed paths with Madame MacEvil Moondragon (known as "Moon Dragon" in these earlier stories) in the pages of Daredevil, allying himself with her before heading in the direction of Avengers Mansion in order to enlist the aid of those heroes in his continuing struggle against Thanos.

Yet, when the two arrive, they find a group of Avengers already dealing with a being who had arrived searching for Mar-vell in order to inform him of dire news regarding the Titan. Though it seems this intruder may have neglected to ring the doorbell:

And so the Avengers assemble--and you and I might as well sit in on Mar-vell's briefing, since it does a fair job of bringing us all up to date on the tale that artist Jim Starlin continues to build into Marvel's earliest epic involving Thanos of Titan.

With the Cosmic Cube in Thanos' possession, he's now able to strike at will, at any moment he chooses. Will these heroes even have time to act in order to save not only Earth, but perhaps the universe?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What If... This Looks Familiar To You?

While the incredible Hulk had his share of stories in the late '70s-early '80s What If series, he may have the distinction of being the one character featured in that title whose "what if" scenarios actually played out in his regular mag. Some of them even more than once; as well as some taking place before What If got around to doing its own variation. Perhaps not all that surprising, since you'd expect to find a few Hulk stories that took a break from the Hulk battling super-beings or the military and dealt with the Hulk's condition whether relating to Bruce Banner or impacting his closest friends.

For instance, there were several stories that featured the Hulk with Banner's mind in control, well before What If made a splashy cover story about it:

The Hulk's "barbarian" phase was easy enough to match up, and with just two words: "Planet Hulk."

Rick Jones also had his turn as the Hulk, in a "what goes around comes around" moment:

As for the Hulk going "berserk," that would take some narrowing down, since berserk is often his natural state when he's been provoked. Issue #300 certainly qualifies for "berserk," as well as previous and subsequent issues where he was raging against everything from cities to the death of Jarella to Doc Samson and the Avengers:

The What If story, written by Peter Gillis and drawn by Ron Wilson, actually justifies the story's title and offers a nice twist on the Hulk's origin tale, which includes some dramatic and questionable decisions by General Ross and leads to tragedy that practically snowballs until the very end. There aren't many What If stories that end happily, and Gillis's story by no means breaks that streak. Look for it to be featured here at the PPC in a future post.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Beware The Hatred of... Una!

For many of us, the story of Una, the love interest of Captain Marvel who accompanied him on his mission to Earth under the command of Col. Yon-Rogg, was before our time. In the world of comics, that wouldn't necessarily present a problem, as memorable, classic characters have a way of remaining popular and reigniting interest despite when they first appeared on the scene; but Una had a few things working against her in that respect. For one, she was as low on readers' radar as Mar-vell himself was in those late-'60s stories as the character struggled to catch fire, his stories about as two-dimensional as himself as well as the book's cast of characters. Also, Una's apparent raison d'ĂȘtre was as a focal point for Yon-rogg's enmity towards Mar-vell, as Yon-rogg's desire for Una went unrequited due to her attraction to Mar-vell.

Yet, until Elysius came along to take her place by Mar-vell's side as the book neared the end of its run, Una held on as Mar-vell's only meaningful love interest long after she'd been literally written out of his life--perhaps because, with the exception of the off-again/on-again interest of Carol Danvers, Una was the only woman stories could refer to as the one who held Mar-vell's heart.  A status likely helped by the circumstances of her tragic end--caught in the crossfire of a pointless battle between the Kree and their enemies, the Aakon.

Obviously Mar-vell is thinking from the hip here, knowing that he must escape from the Kree as well as from the confines of Earth and thus becoming an outlaw to each race, but in the process forfeiting any options he might have to save Una's life. And thus it's in space, within a primitive Earth rocket, where Una eventually meets her end--and Mar-vell decides to transport her to an asteroid located near Mars, where she will forever lie in repose.

But, later, when Mar-vell again crosses paths with Yon-rogg, the Colonel implies that Una's death isn't necessarily final:

Nothing ever comes of Yon-rogg's claim that he can restore Una to life; such was the state of Yon-rogg's anger toward Mar-vell in regard to Una that Mar-vell turned out to be essentially correct when he boiled down Yon-rogg's claim to "taunting, torturous ravings." But this scene would prove to be an essential part of Eon's argument when bringing Mar-vell to revisit Una that a bloody vendetta for the sake of love is ultimately self-defeating.

So it would seem the character of Una has reached (pardon the expression) a dead end, and you can almost hear the cries of "good riddance" as Una really never made much of an impression in terms of readers keeping her alive in forums or clamoring for her return. But return she does, in body if not in spirit, in a story written nearly two years later by Steve Englehart who takes advantage of the fact that Eon, the entity who gave us a very different and much more sellable Captain Marvel, can nevertheless neglect to tidy up after himself.